Yellowstone National Park is a magical location during the winter. However, snowshoeing over 100 miles of the park in the wintertime brings new memories and a whole different experience. Stan Havlick and his wife, Margaret, explored the best that Yellowstone National Park has to offer. They completed a segmented 100-mile (161 km) journey to Old Faithful over the course of three years and three distinct journeys.
Both Stan and Margaret are avid winter enthusiasts with a breadth of winter sports experience and winter camping. Before this journey, Margaret had regularly begun summitting 14ers in the winter. In fact, she completed a sledding journey to Lewis Lake the prior year to train for her climb on Mt. Rainier in Washington state.
Stan also has an impressive endurance background and is the first to bicycle across 6 continents over 14 years, a whopping 20,000 miles (over 32,000 km)! He is also a mountaineer, ski instructor, and triathlete with successful summits worldwide, including all fifty-four of the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. Stan’s cycling and climbing expeditions have helped raise over half a million dollars for the Colorado Cancer Foundation.
So, both Stan and Margaret were the perfect candidates for this Yellowstone National Park adventure.
Their arduous trip, an experience to remember, came with extensive preparation, including a backcountry permit and reservations a year in advance. Additionally, rangers would inspect the gear before their trip, so everything needed to be considered.
They planned to snowshoe 8-10 miles (13-16 km) per day, with all types of weather conditions possible. Initially, their trip was planned for March 2007, but it was thwarted by Grizzly bears’ early arrival in the park. Instead, they postponed their trip, and in December 2007, they arrived in Yellowstone National Park with their motivation and physical stamina in high gear.
Snowshoeing To Old Faithful From The South
Flagg Ranch, near the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park, was where the adventure began. The plan was to snowshoe the road to Old Faithful, a geyser named for its frequent and somewhat predictable eruptions, and arrive at their destination on the 23rd.
While dragging their two 50 lb (23 kg) sleds full of supplies, they snowshoed the road, closed to vehicles in the winter, for 41 miles (66 km) to reach their destination, camping each night of their journey. After arriving at Old Faithful, Stan and Margaret would take the Snowcat back to Flagg Ranch to celebrate the holiday.
Their journey from Flagg Ranch to Old Faithful was an arduous one. The trek crossed the continental divide 3 times with incredibly undulating terrain and a large snowstorm to boot! Wind and frigid temperatures are grueling conditions, but as Stan mentioned, “We had the right equipment, the right attitude, and the stamina to persevere.”
However, with the frigid temperatures and constant elevation changes also came gorgeous views of the Lewis River, along with remnants of the catastrophic 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park. As Stan recalled, “Through the trees and as we dropped into the valley near the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, we could see smoke come up from the thermals, like a chimney.” Their destination was within grasp. The thrill of the adventure and weight of their accomplishment began to set in as Margaret realized, “Oh my God, I did it!”
Their first adventure from Flagg Ranch to Old Faithful was so successful (and so much fun), they decided to snowshoe the second route of Yellowstone National Park in the winter – this time from the west entrance.
Snowshoeing To Old Faithful From The West
After their awe-inspiring adventure to Old Faithful from the south, Stan and Margaret began the next leg of their journey through Yellowstone National Park. The following year, December 2008, they snowshoed from Yellowstone’s west entrance to Old Faithful, a total of 27 miles (43.5 km).
Compared to their first expedition, this route was much less intense. In addition to fewer miles overall, the terrain from the west is fairly level. Over the course of 4 days, the couple followed the road throughout the park, which this time meandered along the Madison River.
Filled with a vast array of wildlife, including dozens of species of birds, swans, eagles, elk, otters, and beavers, this route is an excellent option for those new to endurance trekking. Instead of the 10 miles (16km) per day snowshoed on their first adventure, this leg of the trip required closer to 7 miles (11 km) per day. But with milder terrain, there also was more activity along the road. As luck would have it, though, the weather was milder, with no serious snowstorms to consider.
After a successful snowshoe trek once again, Stan and Margaret spent the holiday admiring the views and planning their next adventure.
Snowshoeing To Old Faithful From The North
Three years after trekking Yellowstone from the west, Stan and Margaret began their final leg in December 2011, from Mammoth to Old Faithful. The last portion of their snowshoeing adventure was also their longest, at 51 miles (82 km). This trek was the most challenging because of the lack of snow and the temperatures, which dropped down to -16 F (-27 C) at night!
On this particular route, the air was so cold that when they crossed the intersection of West Yellowstone and Mammoth, the morning’s cold showed the snow crystals on the road and the trees – a magical sight.
The terrain from the north, similar to their trek from the south, was undulating with a frequent change in elevation. However, this trek also followed a river, the Boiling River, a geothermal river within the park. Adventurers may also encounter wolves, coyotes, and of course, buffalo, as they near Yellowstone National Park. These animals are not to be trifled with by any means.
Margaret shared one experience with a herd of buffalo on their route that could have been a disaster. “There was a clearing on both sides of us, and then, we saw a herd of buffalo was running straight toward us. They had been agitated by a truck.” Immediately, Stan and Margaret took off the hipbelts connecting to their sled to move from the herd. Luckily, the herd veered off into the meadow before reaching the couple. Their tip for these animals: Keep your distance from the buffalo and be respectful. These precautions can take you a long way when you don’t know what you will encounter.
Preparation For The Journey
From their three expeditions throughout Yellowstone National Park, Stan and Margaret are a wealth of knowledge. They offer a few tips for your own snowshoeing adventure:
- Prior experience with winter camping is a must. Extended and endurance expeditions in summer are much different than extended winter expeditions. If you don’t have winter camping experience, keep your first outing short and stay closer to home.
- Know the route. Planning out your route ahead of time is crucial, so you know the terrain. In Yellowstone National Park, you can follow the road in the winter (like Stan and Margaret) to keep your bearings. In the case that you do get lost, make sure you can read a map and compass.
- Choose your campsite wisely, and use your map to scope out the topography of the terrain. Be cautious of slopes and tree wells. Make sure to stop for the day several hours before nightfall, so you don’t have to set up your camp in the dark. If you choose to take any of the snowshoeing trails in Yellowstone National Park or veer off the road, be knowledgeable of avalanche warning signs and danger zones to stay safe.
- Train for the expedition extensively beforehand to ensure you have the fitness levels required for the trip. To prepare for their Yellowstone trilogy, Stan and Margaret practiced on Ridge Road, a road in Rocky Mountain National Park that has similar elevation and terrain to Yellowstone National Park road. They brought along a sled with 6 gallons of water to simulate the sled’s weight on their outing in Yellowstone. Speaking of sleds…
- Use a sled to carry your supplies. It is not easy on your back to carry so much weight. Instead, use a day pack (like this one) to carry items for easy access and a sled to carry your camping items. Stan and Margaret also used a hip belt to attach to the sled bungee cord to help bear the weight. The bungee cord was fed through a PVC pipe to prevent the bungee from freezing and snapping on their journey.
- You can and should use snowshoes instead of skis. The length of your ski can easily hit the front of your sled. But you don’t have to worry about your snowshoes interfering with the pull of the sled. Snowshoes also weigh less than skis and are more beneficial in deep snow.
- Bring the correct gear. As mentioned, the rangers of Yellowstone National Park inspect your gear before heading out. So, you must make sure to carry along all the gear that you need.
View the Yellowstone National Park Service guidelines for additional regulations, travel considerations, and a suggested packing list.
If you’re interested in a presentation on the Yellowstone Trilogy or Stan’s other adventures, you can contact Stan at his website, Go For It Adventures.
What other tips do you have for visiting Yellowstone National Park in the winter? Would you snowshoe any of these routes to Old Faithful?